ATJ Update

ATJ Update

Distance Lawyering: We Need Your Help
By: Michelle Cheng and Jenny Smith

The Texas Access to Justice Commission’s Technology Committee has partnered with the Texas Young Lawyers Association to develop a pilot project to connect rural self-represented litigants with volunteer attorneys via videoconferencing. Through the Distance Lawyering Project, rural self-represented litigants will work with pro bono attorneys via video- or tele-conferencing tools such as Skype. The goal of the project is to provide legal guidance for self-represented litigants seeking an uncontested divorce, using the Supreme Court-approved divorce forms. These litigants qualify for legal aid services but are unable to get an attorney through legal aid due to a lack of legal aid resources. Using video- or tele-conference technology, volunteer attorneys will be able to provide valuable assistance to these clients without leaving their own offices.  Assisted pro se programs are one of the lower cost service delivery models for helping more people gain access to the courts and have their voices heard.

Volunteer attorneys would be expected to remotely help the litigant prepare his or her initial petition using the forms. The attorney would then connect with the litigant again prior to the end of the 60-day waiting period to assist with preparation for final judgment. The project contemplates an assisted pro se relationship between the litigant and the attorney volunteer.  The volunteer will not be expected to travel or to make an appearance on behalf of the litigant at any time.

This project will also benefit courts, which can more easily move through their docket when a self-represented litigant has received assistance from a pro bono attorney.

If you are interested in volunteering, please sign up online. Once you sign up, you will be matched with a pro bono coordinator at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas (LANWT), or Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA), who will match you with a litigant that qualifies for the program. You will then work directly with the litigant. Please contact Jocelyn Fowler, staff attorney at the Texas Access to Justice Commission, with any questions you may have at 512-427-1859.

Michelle Cheng serves on the Texas Access to Justice Commission as chair of the Technology Committee and is an attorney at Whitehurst, Harkness, Brees, Cheng, Alsaffar & Higginbotham, PLLC, a trial firm focused on catastrophic injury cases nationwide.  

Jenny Smith serves on the Texas Access to Justice Commission and is an attorney with the Austin-based firm Cobb & Counsel, PLLC, a commercial litigation boutique with significant experience representing regulated industries challenging local, state, and federal regulations, responding to Texas State Agency investigations, and opposing class actions.

Views and opinions expressed in eNews are those of their authors and not necessarily those of the Texas Young Lawyers Association or the State Bar of Texas.

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